Anderson, a performance coach with 27 years of experience, was guiding the three-time major winner through a series of exercises for a photo shoot in 2014 when he saw something click.
“He said, ‘Oh, I love the way that feels,'” Anderson recalls. “There are pictures and footage from that photo shoot and you can see him in this great position.”
Anderson has been coaching amateur and professional golfers since 2004 and in that time has seen how fitness conditioning can help improve a player’s game — even if it means adjusting a big winner’s swing with one-time advice.
“When you start taking advantage of the athleticism you already have and use that to your advantage on the golf course… you get some consistent results.”
Anderson trains athletes in a variety of disciplines, including American football, baseball, and general fitness, but it’s golf where he’s seen the biggest shift in mindset toward conditioning.
On today’s PGA Tour, most players are lean, muscular and athletic — just as much at home in the gym as they are on the golf course.
Calling himself “a complete geek” when it comes to golf swing biomechanics, Anderson has seen first-hand how fitness has become a crucial part of the modern game.
“Twenty years ago, a flesh-trainer man like me trying to talk about the golf swing was taboo,” he says, adding that physical conditioning used to be seen as “no problem” — a man can have a paternal body or a little belly.”
Today, however, he works closely with golfers to improve the physical aspects of their game: stability, mobility, coordination, speed and explosiveness.
“The golf swing is one of the most violent, athletic moves in sports…staying in place and moving as fast as you can,” says Anderson.
Rather than helping players grow stronger, Anderson’s emphasis is on durability and withstanding the rigors of swinging a golf club over and over again.
To do that, he uses exercises like TRX — a suspension training tool that uses your body weight to build strength, balance and core stability — squat and lunge routines, a plank series, deadlift reps, and sets of sprints and jumps.
Anderson also sees a diverse sports background as an advantage for golfers.
He points to the likes of the 2019 US Open champion and former college basketball player Gary Woodland, two-time major winner Dustin Johnson — “he could dunk a basketball now,” Anderson says — and the 2017 Masters winner and avid soccer player. Sergio Garcia.
“What I’ve found is that competitors on the golf course have a competitive advantage when they play team sports or individual sports that require all those aspects of athleticism, speed, agility and responsiveness,” Anderson continues.
“Different types of pressure situations you experience through general sports… These are the veins running through all of these sports worldwide, and competitively you can really tap them on the golf course.”
Golf’s relationship to fitness training is not a phenomenon unique to the past two or three decades. A nine-time major winner who continues to exercise regularly well into his 80s, Gary Player has often touted the benefits of exercise and a healthy lifestyle.
But it’s Tiger Woods who is often credited with revolutionizing the sport’s attitude toward the gym.
At age 24, Woods said his daily routine would consist of four miles of running, lifting weights, hitting and exercising for several hours, running another four miles, and then an evening of basketball or tennis if he felt like it.
“The work he’s done has made him a great player,” Anderson said.
“If you look at a lot of the young, athletic, very good players out there now, Tiger was their idol.
“When they wanted to know what it was like, what it takes to be successful on the golf course, they looked at someone like Tiger; you have to be fast, you have to be athletic, you have to be powerful, you have to be balanced. And they took over that mentality.”
DeChambeau’s ‘scientific approach’
One of the most notable approaches to physical conditioning in the game of golf today is Bryson DeChambeau, the 2020 US Open champion and former world No. 1, who piled on 40 pounds during the Covid-19 pandemic.
It was an approach that paid off as the tournaments returned, with DeChambeau taking four top-10 finishes in June and July 2020.
But Anderson doesn’t think DeChambeau’s blueprint—which involved building muscle to drive the ball long distances—will change golf in the future. He says the opportunity presented by the pandemic is making DeChambeau an “anomaly.”
“What really helped him do that is that he has this one airplane swing,” Anderson adds.
“All his irons are the same length and all this stuff. He has a very cerebral kind of analytical, scientific approach to the game. He can keep everything on the same level and come down with just more power and speed.”
DeChambeau is currently absent from the PGA Tour after undergoing surgery for a broken bone in his left hand.
It means he will miss the upcoming PGA Championship at the Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where the favorites include newly crowned Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, world No. 2 Jon Rahm and four-time major winner McIlroy. .
As for Spieth, with whom Anderson has partnered several times through a shared sponsor, the American could join an elite circle by completing a career grand slam at the PGA Championship.
He will no doubt be hoping for another light bulb moment as he prays to win his first major title in five years.